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'Doctor Faustus' review: Chris Noth and the Devil

Chris Noth, left, in the title role, and

Chris Noth, left, in the title role, and Zach Grenier as Mephistopheles star in Classic Stage Company's production of "Doctor Faustus" in Manhattan through July 12, 2015. Credit: Joan Marcus

Mr. Big has gone to the devil.

OK. That was easy. But, hey, Chris Noth's HBO character, forever notorious as Sarah Jessica Parker's elusive fictional lover on "Sex and the City," eventually sold his bachelor soul to Carrie Bradshaw's devilish charms. So who better to play the title role in this "Sin and the City" adaptation of "Doctor Faustus" downtown?

If you were expecting a heavy slog through Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe's soul-scorching drama, think again. Based on Goethe's legendary dramatization about a vainglorious intellectual who bartered with the devil's disciple, this Classic Stage Company adaptation by David Bridel and Andrei Belgrader (directed by the latter) is as long on comedy as it is on theology.

Noth brings an alternately manic and laid-back arrogance to Faustus, a scholar who, bored with pursuit of conventional sources of knowledge, dismisses the study of logic, medicine, law and divinity as useless. "What doctrine call you this? Que sera, sera?" Through magician intermediaries, Faustus summons Lucifer's deputy Mephistopheles, with whom he bargains in blood a contract that exchanges his soul, 24 years hence, for genie-like granting of wishes. Zach Grenier's Mephistopheles evinces a cunning that should be transparent. Idiots know better than to trust him. Blinded by hubris, Faustus sees only the lure of temporarily unbridled power.

Little of the debate about Calvinist predetermination vs. freewill that Faustus first provoked surfaces here. We imagine Marlowe spinning in his grave over the shtick that makes this reincarnation laugh-out-loud accessible to 21st century audiences. Yet it remains faithful to Marlowe's literal intention. Comic interludes, irreverently embellished here, are an integral part of the source, scholars say. But considering how Marlowe debunks scholars as jesters, who knows? Maybe Marlowe wrote plays attributed to Shakespeare and/or vice versa.

In any case, Jeffrey Binder -- decked out like Tom Wolfe -- is deceptively debonair as Lucifer, while Walker Jones as Faustus' servant is both haunting narrator and pragmatic practitioner of banal magic. He deploys a pair of clowns (Lucas Caleb Rooney and Ken Cheeseman) to do his bidding in which audience "volunteers" are brazenly enlisted. One is implicated in a Seven-Deadly-Sins tableau worthy of Hieronymus Bosch (costumes by Rita Ryack and Martin Schnellinger). Representing Lust, Marina Lazzaretto as Helen of Troy goes stitchless.

As for Mr. Big (spoiler, really?), he gets what he bargained for.

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday through July 12, Classic Stage Company, 138 E. 13th St., Manhattan

TICKETS $66-$126; 212-677-4210,


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